This is probably not going to be my most popular post. But let me say that I am not against celebrating the Christmas season with gifts, and food, and sparkle and lights; with snowmen, and eggnog, and parties and cheer. I am not even opposed to Santa Claus, and elves, and reindeer.
I know Jesus is the reason for the season, but in our culture the season also comes with all these forms of fun and excitement. However, there is one aspect that saddens me greatly—teaching children that the Santa Claus fantasy is real. Now, I am not trying to be judgmental—this is only my personal opinion—but I think telling children that Santa is real can lead to several significant negative consequences.
I know this might be touchy, but please remember I am not judging, or dictating to, anyone; I’m just suggesting some negative consequences of telling children that Santa is real.
And here they are…1. A Breach of Trust in the Parents’ Truthfulness
We never taught our son that Santa was real, but we did enjoy the Santa fantasy; we sang the Santa songs, had prominent Santa decorations, and one year when he was very young I dressed up in a Santa suit for him. Both he and we had great fun with Santa. I don’t think he missed anything by being aware that Santa wasn’t real.
However, one year (about second or third grade) he suddenly became very excited about Santa coming on Christmas eve to bring him presents. We were surprised but went along with it. We didn’t confirm the reality of Santa, but we cooperated with his excitement and on Christmas he had presents from ‘Santa’ just like he had received presents from us on previous years. He was so excited!
But the next year, he was back to normal. He never needed Santa to be real again. I am not sure if he really thought Santa was real that year or if he was playing out an exciting pretend fantasy.
On the other hand, my own extended family went to great lengths to perpetrate the reality of Santa. One day we heard Dad talking to ‘Santa’ at the door, ‘They’re not asleep yet, Santa, so you can come back later if you have the time.’ On another occasion, after I learned the truth, we heard Santa (my Uncle) outside ordering off his reindeer: ‘On Prancer, on Rudolf…’ And the kids were excited.
I believed my parents when they told me Santa was real because I trusted them and believed anything they told me—because they said it was true. So I felt betrayed when they finally told me otherwise. It was a breach of my trust in our partnership of truthfulness.
2. Embarrassment and Bullying of Children by Peers at School
As I got older, Santa-believers my age were picked on and made fun of by other kids. They never came after me because I was not vocal about my Santa beliefs, but they subjected other kids like me to ridicule BECAUSE THEY BELIEVED THEIR PARENTS. And I could not speak up, as I was in the same position—even when I began to have doubts.
- Why are there numerous Santas in the stores?
- How can Santa travel to all children in a single night?
- How can Santa eat all those milk and cookies?
I believed what my parents told me.
3. Throwing Out God with Santa
The idea is, I guess, that believing in Santa is something we just grow out of. But how does that work any differently than with what parents tell us about God; are we to grow out of that too? If parents tell us Santa is real, and he is not, then why not assume that God isn’t real either? A friend at school demonstrated this very clearly. He said, ‘God isn’t real; he is just like Santa Claus’–which isn’t a bad comparison, actually.
God knows when we are sleeping or awake. God rewards us for being good and punishes us for being bad. This God is very much like Santa Claus, and the parallels lead to misguided views of God that often follow even into adulthood.
4. Being Manipulated by Parents to More Easily Control Behavior
Often, parents use Santa (and God) to manipulate children into doing what the parents want by causing them to behave in certain ways to earn rewards or avoid punishment. Aren’t the packages under the tree on Christmas morning GIFTS? Don’t we want to give gifts freely to our children? I think incentives are sometimes good—but isn’t Christmas about actually giving? And not rewarding?
Again, this parallels and reinforces the harmful belief in a God of reward and punishment, with the goal of our behavior being to get to heaven (reward) and avoid eternal hell (punishment). The concept is far too transferable from Santa Claus to God, and neither should be used to manipulate a child’s behavior to receive rewards (presents/heaven) or avoid punishment (no favorite presents/hell).
My Conclusion Might not be Your Conclusion
I am not opposed to the fantasy of Santa Claus. It is a lot of fun! But it is still fun without the deceit. We never told our son that Santa was real; yet he, too, was excited about Christmas every year. It is nice to imagine such a fantasy as Santa Claus, as well as the fantasies of many other childhood books and stories. My son absolutely loved Reepicheep in the Chronicles of Narnia, but he knew it was only a story—a fantasy. It was only pretend.
Parents should decide what they want to tell their children about Santa. But I think telling them a falsehood can have very negative consequences.
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